The Oakland Raiders recently announced plans to relocate to Las Vegas in 2019, breaking the hearts of fans nationwide. The move should teach an important lesson to officials right here at home: Subsidizing sports teams is a bad play.
The story of the Raiders should serve as a warning to Prince William County taxpayers in particular. The county’s Board of Supervisors just approved a publicly funded stadium for the minor-league Potomac Nationals — the P-Nats — but it’s a bad deal for the public.
Professional sports teams have been relocating to new cities when they fail to acquire public funding for stadiums. Last year, the Rams stuck St. Louis with a $144 million bill after the team decided to move to Los Angeles. And earlier this year, San Diego taxpayers were left with a $50 million tab after the Chargers joined the Rams in L.A.
This time around is no different. The Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas will leave Oakland taxpayers stuck with a $163 million bill. Teams constantly ask taxpayers for handouts despite generating vast revenues. Billionaire owners get publicly financed stadiums and the working-class citizens pick up the tab — corporate welfare at its worst.
It’s understandable that cities want to attract professional sports teams. People of all ages love sports, and teams often define a community’s identity. But local governments can’t abandon all logic and principle to secure a team. That’s what Oakland did, and it didn’t work out.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the original $200 million bond that brought the Raiders to Oakland will cost $350 million. When asked about the bond, Oakland City Council President Larry Reid acknowledged it was a bad deal. “The projections were off, but everyone was just caught up in the emotions of having the Raiders return.”
In Prince William County, the P-Nats stadium will be no different; taxpayers will be stuck with the bill for the stadium project and its associated costs.
The county has allocated roughly $72 million for the P-Nats stadium project, which includes a new stadium, new parking garage and nearby road redevelopment. The deal will make the P-Nats stadium deal the “most expensive in Minor League Baseball.”
Because Prince William County taxpayers will own the stadium, taxpayers will be on the hook for the stadium’s costs — even if the team moves. That’s a big gamble for taxpayers considering that the P-Nats’s owner has threatened to sell the team before.
Proponents of taxpayer-funded stadiums insist that stadiums are economic engines for communities and a wise investment for taxpayers. But economists from around the country disagree. A 2015 study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found these projects provide little to no economic benefit for their communities.
Economist Victor Matheson of Holy Cross was more to the point: “Whatever number the sports promoter says, take it and move the decimal one place to the left. Divide it by 10, and that’s a pretty good estimate of the actual economic impact.”
These handouts are an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars, pure and simple. Supervisors need to prioritize the needs of their constituents over the needs of the Silber family — who has donated thousands of dollars to the campaigns of various pro-stadium board members.
If Prince William County supervisors truly believe this stadium is a good deal for taxpayers, then they should have allowed county residents to vote on the issue in November. They didn’t, because they know that this deal would strike out with taxpayers. Supervisors would do well to remember Oakland’s example and refuse to hand out more sports subsidies.
Tyler Muench is Northern Virginia director with Americans for Prosperity.